What’s not to like about a luscious, ripe papaya? Pretty pink-orange, the fruit is a sweet package in itself yet versatile enough to add a mellow touch to everything from smoothies to salads and salsa.
The green version of the fruit, though perhaps not as alluring as when ripe, is equally as versatile. It is, simply, more like a vegetable than a fruit. Raw, it resembles a heartier cucumber; cooked, it is squashlike, though less watery and more flavorful.
No matter which way you eat it, papaya is a healthful food, rich in vitamins A, C and E.
Green papaya, in particular, is a good digestive aid because it is high in papain, which is also a good meat tenderizer. (Just place green papaya slices on meat and let it sit for several hours.)
According to the Papaya Lovers website (www.papayalovers.com), green papaya also was used in folk medicine as an aphrodisiac and a contraceptive, and to address high blood pressure.
Geographically speaking, it should come as no surprise that both Filipino and Thai cuisines employ green papaya, because the fruit flourishes in Southeast Asia’s tropical climes.
In the Philippines, says Carina Agpaoa, green papaya is shredded and pickled with sugar, vinegar, carrots and raisins, and eaten as a salad.
"It’s more mellow and sweeter than Thai papaya salad because of the raisins," she says.
Agpaoa, a Hawaii resident raised in the Philippines, recalls another Filipino dish from her small-kid days: green papaya cooked with pork blood. Papaya, common to most home gardens, was used to stretch the blood.
"This is traditional cooking in the Philippines," she says, though it’s not something she makes in Hawaii, where she’s become the resident chef among family and friends. All rave about her many and varied Filipino dishes, which populate picnic and party tables at gatherings large and small.
"I cook by revising traditional recipes," she says. "I can improvise because I started young, around 12. Whenever I visited a friend’s home, I stayed in the kitchen. I was not hanging around the kids — I was watching the parents cook."
Below, Agpaoa shares her recipe for a classic Filipino dish, Chicken Papaya. The recipe calls for marungai leaves, which can be found in ethnic markets. Agpaoa makes one recommendation: "Use stewing chicken. It takes longer to cook than a fryer — about three hours — but it tastes much better."
Thip Nguyen, owner of Sweet Basil Express at the Nuuanu YMCA and Creative Cookery Catering, grew up in Laos and began her journey into cooking once she moved to Honolulu as an adult. She and her husband, Tui, whipped up fabulous Thai dishes for dinner parties and visiting friends, who encouraged them to cook professionally.
Nguyen says raw papaya salad is probably the most popular Thai green papaya dish, but the unripe fruit also is cooked, in stir-frys, soups and as a vegetable side.
"It stands on its own, so it takes a long time to cook, a lot longer than squash," says Nguyen. "In fact, sometimes I parboil it first before I cook it, then I treat it as a squash."
Depending on the dish, Nguyen says she sometimes selects partially ripe papaya for cooking. Slightly pink flesh means there’s a sweetness in the fruit.
She says papaya is so versatile that recipes can easily accommodate personal preferences, whether one likes sweet or spicy dishes, chicken or fish.
And green or ripe, the papaya is an ideal ingredient.
"How do you want to play with it? You can use the ripe fruit for dessert: puree it like a banana for cold tapioca or treat it like a honeydew melon. Serve it with ice cream," she suggests. "Season cooked papaya with garlic, salt and pepper. Use cumin, tamarind sauce or curry.
"From beginning to end, papaya can be a fruit or a veggie, a main dish or a dessert, a soup, a salad or a side. It depends on how creative you want to be."
Here, Nguyen offers a chicken stir-fry that uses green fruit with a tinge of pink. Some papaya can be green on the outside even while the flesh inside is turning pink. Nguyen says to check green papaya by pressing a fingernail into the fruit to expose a tiny crack of the flesh.
TAMARIND PAPAYA WITH CHICKEN
Courtesy Thip Nguyen, Creative Cookery Catering
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 chicken breasts or 4 thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup water
1-1/2 pounds green papaya, early to medium ripeness
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 thumb-size pieces ginger, sliced
2 to 3 tablespoons cooking sherry
2 tablespoons tamarind sauce, or to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
1 to 2 pieces lime
2 tablespoons fish sauce (optional; use salt if eliminating)
3 fresh chilies (optional)
3 tablespoons cilantro, roughly chopped
In small bowl, combine cornstarch and soy sauce.
Place chicken in bowl and pour soy sauce mixture and water over chicken. Mix well and cover bowl to marinate.
Peel and seed papaya. Use food processor, single-blade hand shredder or knife to slice papaya into 1-inch-by-2-inch pieces about 1/8-inch thick.
In large pan, heat oil. When hot, add garlic, ginger and chicken. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring, then add papaya.
Cook until pan becomes dry, then add sherry and cook 2 minutes.
Add tamarind sauce 2 teaspoons at a time and incorporate into chicken. Cook until chicken is done.
Remove from heat and add sugar, lime, fish sauce and chilies, if using. Top with cilantro. Serves 3.
Note: For a vegetarian version, replace chicken with tofu or mushrooms and eliminate fish sauce.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving (including fish sauce): 430 calories, 20 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,300 mg sodium, 36 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 14 g sugar, 27 g protein
Courtesy Carina Agpaoa
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds stewing chicken, cut into pieces and skin removed
2-inch piece ginger, sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Chicken broth or chicken bouillon cube
3 pounds green papaya, peeled and cut in chunks
Sea salt, to taste (optional)
10 stems marungai leaves, or to taste
Heat oil in large pot. Add chicken and ginger and brown chicken. Add fish sauce.
When brown, add chicken broth or bouillon and water to cover chicken. Bring to boil, lower heat and cook until chicken softens, about 2-1/2 hours. Check pot and add water accordingly.
Add papaya and salt. Continue cooking 25 minutes.
Add marungai leaves and cook another 5 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.
Note: Ratio of chicken to papaya can be adjusted according to taste.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving (based on 6 servings, assumes 15 ounces chicken broth and not including salt to taste): 280 calories, 12 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 850 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 27 g protein
THAI PAPAYA SALAD
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons tamarind sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste (optional)
1 teaspoon dry chili flakes (optional)
3 cups shredded green papaya (fruit should be hard and very green, with crisp flesh)
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 cup long beans, cut into 1-inch long pieces
1/2 cup lime juice
Chili pepper, to taste (optional)
2 tablespoons crushed peanuts
In a mortar, crush garlic, then add salt, mixing thoroughly (or use a bowl, crushing with the bottom of a glass or back of a spoon).
Add tamarind, palm sugar, fish sauce, sugar, shrimp paste and chili flakes. Mix.
Add and gently crush papaya, tomatoes, carrots and beans. Add lime and mix. Add chili pepper. Garnish with peanut. Serve with lettuce and other sliced vegetables. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 140 calories, 2.5 g total fat, no saturated fat or cholesterol, greater than 1,200 mg sodium, 28 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 17 g sugar, 4 g protein